In class we brought up the question of whether or not Jack and Yuki really love each other. The majority of us naturally answered “no,” which I completely understand because from the modern, feminist perspective their relationship is unhealthy.
Jack is clearly possessive of Yuki, and he repeatedly calls her “My wife” as if to stake his claim. Yuki, on the other hand, begins this relationship knowing that her “services” have been bought; she plays her part well by manipulating Jack with her beauty and charm. However, it seems that after Yuki acquires the money she needs for her brother, there is a shift in her behavior. Jack claims that she becomes “strangely docile and submissive” (Watanna 121). Jack seems to take this as a change in feeling towards him and believes that she will not leave him again. When Yuki finds the picture of Jack’s sister, she even appears to be jealous before she knows the truth of his relationship to her. The greatest evidence of Yuki’s changed feelings is when she acts distressed because of her broken jade bracelet, which she sees as a “bad omen” which “usually preceded the sorrows of love” (129). When Jack discovers that Yuki had planned to run away, the relationship freezes over, with Jack acting like a jailer and Yuki feeling afraid of him. Even when he tries to reconcile with her, she pushes him away, but it is unclear if this is because of her fear of him or because she fears the relationship is about to end badly.
Taro’s arrival brings a whole new facet of the relationship into play. Jack hardly seems to feel guilty about breaking his promise not to marry in Japan until the moment he realizes she is Taro’s sister. After this realization, the puzzle pieces are put into place about why she married in the first place. His anger at her completely subsides and he promises Taro that he will find her and treat her well. It is perhaps because of Taro’s death that he is so determined to follow through. Yuki’s decision to return is less easy to understand because she does not know about his change of heart. She becomes depressed on her journey, and tells the American manager’s wife that she longed for “the man she loved” (166). In the end, they find each other, and live happily ever after (of course, neglecting to mention Taro’s death).
The interpretation of these events may depend on how much credit is given to Watanna for being either ahead of her time or for falling into romantic stereotypes of her day. Jack and Yuki’s relationship, which is unhealthy from a modern perspective, reflected the ideas at the time that the man in the marriage should be the leader and the woman should submit herself to him, both sexually and emotionally. This stereotype is clear throughout the work, but it is possible that Watanna’s introduction of character of Taro attempt to subvert this idea. He is the first to make Jack promise not to marry a Japanese woman, which makes Jack at first refuse to marry Yuki in. Upon his return, Taro questions their relationship, in which Yuki is at the disadvantage. Including Taro in the story at all may have been Watanna’s way of sneaking in some radical ideas, all the while achieving the success she aspired for by still appealing to readers with the promise of a happy ending.
This still begs the question: Is it love? The answer, I think, is difficult to determine without knowing Watanna’s intentions. She may have fully believed that the relationship between Jack and Yuki is romantic. She may also have intended to exploit the ideals of her time, all the while parodying it. Personally, I think that Watanna intended to create some type of a bond between Yuki and Jack. Yuki probably views Jack as one of the few people who does not revile her for being a half caste. She may overlook his possessiveness, which leads her to regret running away from him. For his part, Jack does not give up on finding Yuki, perhaps because of his promises to Taro and his new understanding of her circumstances. It drives him mad, and he is genuinely happy to find her again. Given the expectations for romance at the time A Japanese Nightingale was written, I can believe that they both ignore the unhealthy aspects of their relationship and think they are in love.